Siri, Come Here, I Want to See You

by Translation Guy on December 7, 2011

Siri, the app that talks back, is the big hit on the new iPhone 4s.

In my last post, we looked under the covers at the unnaturally intimate relationships we furtively pursue with our cell phones. I’m talking about more than just an extra “s” in front of “texting.” Our little hand-held fetishes have become the sacred mirrors from which all is revealed, as our communication with our smart phones evolves/devolves to a conversation with a device rather than the person at the end of the line.

And now that apps like Siri are learning to say just the right thing, its just going to get better and better, or worse and worse. Youtube is awash with iPhone geeks eager to share their interactions with their oh-so-clever cell phones. Talk about stupid pet tricks. Thousands have put Siri through a Turing torture test to seperate the men from the machines, or at least to  tests a machine’s ability to mimic human behavior. Yawn. Been there, done that. Even a casual viewer of Jeopardy knows that  IBMs artificial intelligence, Watson, can already whup humans at facts and figures. How hard can being human be? We are only a data set away from a machine that can represent as more human than a human.

Everything will be fine, so long as you’ve got Siri in your pocket. Who needs friends when an app has got your back? But what about that pal of yours at the other end of the line?  How do you know it’s not his Siri? How does it matter, really? Maybe that’s who you should be talking to anyway.

Rick Bookstaber figures its going to happen any day now. “One reason…, is that we are meeting the computers half way. The more we become twittering, texting beings, the easier it is for a computer to mimic us, because we are stripped of much of our human context and behave more like computers.

“The second reason is now readily apparent with the unfurling of the Apple iPhone4S and Siri, the digital assistant.  With the iPhone users accessing Siri to find restaurants, make appointments, and ask trivia-level questions (and with more areas of interaction added down the road),  Apple’s servers are going to amass the queries of millions of people many times every day.  And as Google has shown with Google Translate, if a computer has enough raw material, it can pretty much figure this sort of thing out.”

So when we can’t tell the human from the ghost in the machine, it will be just like online poker, where poker ‘bots are lurking to clean your clock. Or skim just enough to avoid detection by anti-poker bots. And that’s just the start. Artificial intelligence follows the money, and online poker is chump change compared to the revenue these apps will someday produce for their masters.

The voices in the machines will help you so much that you will be helpless without them. And soon enough, the machine pretending to be a human will be a better at being human than you. They might even be better at being you than you, but just the way you like it, because they’ll learn that too, as natural language algorithms pour over your natural language as you speak. What will become of us?


  1. Jane says:

    Is all of this automation good? Doesn’t it just take jobs away from actual people that could be answering questions or making phone calls rather than a computer? Pretty soon there won’t be a need for people in jobs – even, dare I say, translation?

    • Ken says:

      Automation is good for automatons, for sure.

    • Ken says:

      Only because the IT guys have it in for us. But once the code starts writing itself, maybe the machines will put us in a zoo or something.

  2. Dana Dunn says:

    Interesting how you say we are only a data set away from computers being more human than we are. I think that we are naturally becoming less human the way we rely on machines more and people less to get things done.

  3. Iflycoach says:

    What will become of us you ask? We will eventually be living on a space ship called the Axiom and nobody will even walk. We will just hover around on lounge chairs and computers and robots will take care of our every need. Wait, wasn’t that a movie?

  4. Peter Dokken says:

    I’m glad I’m older and realatively immune to the attraction of these little phones that do it all. I have a phone, but I’m not addicted and it’s pretty basic. I feel kind of sorry for these young people who feel they need to constantly upgrade their phones whenever they do something new.

  5. I think that if Siri really takes off and so many people use it, maybe we all start using this type of thing in schools and we can get rid of teachers. Every student just does their own lesson and asks Siri for help. I can see something like this in many fields, not just on your phone.

  6. The Bookie says:

    I’m excited about Siri and I think you are right about on the spot translation. People will literally have a translator in their pocket.

  7. I love my iPhone and I look forward to upgrading, but it won’t be for a while since the one I have is less than a year old. I really like what is happening with phones and I think that in time ( a short time) all of the phones will be doing this stuff. This pretty amazing stuff.

  8. Jay Langston says:

    My friend dropped his phone and broke it. I never saw anyone cry like that before. You would have thought someone died. He didn’t stop talking about it for days. Sad, Sad, Sad.

  9. Don Weber says:

    Siri may be enough for some, but I prefer to keep my own assistant. She makes a fine cup of coffee and schedules all of my appoints just fine.

  10. Kiddo says:

    The cell phones are nice, but the cell phone providers are the next mafia. Everyone gets addicted and has to have service. You would think that with so many more people using phones each year that the cost would drop more than it has. We’re hooked, and they got us by the balls for for what ever they want to charge.

  11. Indian Bully says:

    I don’t Twitter, and I don’t Facebook, but I text all the time. It just saves time over making an actual call. Actually, I’m not much of a talker, but I need to communicate.

  12. Fifi says:

    I think David Letterman is going to change his Stupid Pet Tricks spot Stupid Phone Tricks. Ratings will soar!

  13. Lynne Craft says:

    A.I. was something I thought would always be science fiction but those guys at Apple are making it real. Won’t be long before we can have little computers following us around as our assistants and we won’t need to actually carry a phone.

  14. Actually, if I was talking to my pal’s Siri on the other end of the line it would be an upgrade!

  15. Honestly I am a little leary of doing everything on my phone. I do think they are pretty great, but like you said about skimming a little off the top, I’m more leary of the other people that figure out a way to hack into my phone or something.

  16. Renee Ashley says:

    I grew up with a Sony walkman strapped to my belt. For the next 20 years I didn’t have a anything because a cell phone was just a luxury I couldn’t afford. I finally broke down and got an Apple Iphone and now I am on it so much I can’t imagine life without it – even thoush I spent over 40 years without such a device and I was just fine. I should have bought stock back in the day.

  17. Dirty Bee says:

    I looked back at your last post. Funny. You’re right. People have a fetish with their gadgets and I think it impacts their daily activities.

  18. Lois Lynch says:

    The ability of the Apple servers are going to only get better just from people using the phone and other gadgets. My brain can’t hardly fathom where all of that knowledge and ability is going to take us next.

  19. I am hoping Santa is good to me and I get me one of those new iPhone 4s phones. I’m ready to trade up my berry for a more satisfying piece of fruit.

  20. Louis Yu says:

    I know I’ve been called by someone’s Siri before. I swear it’s a real person on the other line, but when I tried to ask questions, the pause and answer kind of gave it away. They were very realistic,though. Scary to think of what is coming.

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